Review: “Renegade Star,” J.N. Chaney

Pros: Good action near the end; interesting premise
Cons: Pale retread of Firefly; unlikable main character
Rating: 3 out of 5

J.N. Chaney’s Renegade Star: An Intergalactic Space Opera Adventure is noted in its Amazon description as appealing to Firefly fans. Unfortunately, this seems to refer to the fact that Renegade Star is a pale retread of Firefly. It’s a space western with plenty of cussin’ and scrappy Renegades plying their (often) illegal trade while trying to avoid the monolithic Union. There’s even a young girl being smuggled aboard a ship, who turns out to be unusual and weird and who’s been experimented on by the Union, who are after her. Captain Jace Hughes, however, is no Malcolm Reynolds. Until the last quarter of the book he’s pretty unlikable, lacking Mal’s accidental charm and quick wit. I wouldn’t feel the need to belabor this point except that it’s impossible to avoid the comparison between the stories–Renegade Star is just too obviously based on Firefly.

None of the characters are all that interesting. Ten-year-old albino Lex is little more than a MacGuffin, there to move the plot forward and occasionally be cute while interacting with Jace. The most interesting character is a rather badass nun, but she shows so little personality that she completely fails to live up to her potential. The bad guy Jace owes money to is about as stereotypical as it gets.

The last quarter of the book is better than the rest. Jace becomes more likable as he’s forced to abandon his expectations for the future. Some of the characters he’s toting around with him display a little more personality. The amount of action goes up exponentially, and the author seems to be better at action scenes than quieter material.

The premise of archaeologists trying to find a map to the near-mythological Old Earth is interesting, but very little is done with that in this installment. The book is so busy trying to be Firefly that it hurries through anything having to do with the arc-plot. I wish the author had concentrated more on developing his own unique voice instead of trying so hard to match someone else. While it’s true that if you look far enough you’ll find that every plot has been done before, you still need to come up with your own, unique voice and window-dressing to make things new and interesting–and Renegade Star fails to do that.

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